IN the Orchid Room of London's Dorchester Hotel, 10 men met for a council of war on Thursday evening, though one of them knew he had already won one battle. Nine Association of Southeast Asian Nations leaders and premier Zhu Rhongji met to work out a joint strategy before their summit with the European Union, where they hoped to forge an alliance to battle their economic problems. But while Thai Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai sat nervously clearing his throat and Japanese premier Ryutaro Hashimoto fidgeted, Mr Zhu sat back confidently knowing he had already won the confidence of British Prime Minister and European Union president Tony Blair. Only two weeks into his job, Mr Zhu has proved a big hit with Mr Blair. Whether he will have the authority back home to implement the policies he spelled out is still to be seen. But Mr Zhu has certainly made new friends in London. While other Asian leaders were busy denying their economies had become sick, Mr Zhu emerged as someone who could see a way ahead. His trip to London began quietly. His arrival on Tuesday night provoked little interest despite a photo opportunity with Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle. But, the next morning, Mr Zhu's charm offensive began. He joked with the press during a visit to Greenwich in south London, where he demonstrated he could 'link the East and the West' by straddling the meridian line in a side trip to the Old Royal Observatory. He then charmed some of Britain's top businessmen in a meeting at the Bank of England, where he outlined his plans for attracting foreign investment. By the afternoon, Whitehall was buzzing with news that Mr Zhu did not fit the normal mould of the Beijing bureaucrat. In the evening, when he delivered a speech at a formal dinner in London's Guildhall, it was even suggested he might have a sense of humour, previously unheard of among Chinese leaders. Though interrupted by protesters calling for freedom for Tibet, the premier was apparently able to persuade the invited audience of leading business and political figures of his commitment to liberalise China's economy. On Thursday, after lunch with Mr Blair at Downing Street and meetings with European Commission President Jacques Santer, the British establishment seemed totally won over. Diplomats were describing him as 'someone they could do business with' - a man with a clear vision of the future and a determination to get there. 'The thing is he comes without some of that unfortunate baggage his predecessor had to carry around with him,' one British official said. 'He really represents a break from his predecessor [Li Peng] who was so much involved with Tiananmen Square.' Mr Blair was said to be fascinated and full of admiration for Mr Zhu. 'When you hear what Mr Zhu is trying to do, it is very impressive,' a spokesman for Mr Blair said. 'Mr Zhu is clearly somebody with real drive and determination.' But though he may have won over the hearts and minds of the British Government, Mr Zhu still has a way to go before he wins the approval of its public. In the Paxton Arms pub across the road from the Hyde Park Hotel in Knightsbridge where Mr Zhu was staying, the barman had strong views on China - but no idea who its Prime Minister was. 'I think China is moving slowly towards democracy so I'm waiting to see what will happen but I haven't read anything about Zhu. Maybe it's because people haven't figured out how to characterise him yet.' Some experts believe the British Government's sudden infatuation for Mr Zhu is provoked more out of concern for what might happen to the European economy than any real interest in what is going on in China. 'Europe is very much obsessed with its own problems at the moment,' said Michael Yahuda, Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics. 'If the Asian crisis hadn't occurred as it has then I don't think there would have been so much interest.' Chinese diplomats were privately delighted at the reception their boss was receiving and all wore huge grins throughout the trip. But publicly they were quick to deny Mr Zhu was seeking the spotlight on the stage with other world leaders. Foreign Ministry spokesman Tang Guoqiang insisted the premier was not seeking to establish an international role and the visit to the summit so soon after his appointment was a coincidence. Mr Zhu would be the first to realise that trying to upstage President Jiang Zemin so early in his premiership would not be the most sensible move.